Mano a Mano: Ash Wednesday v. Valentine’s Day

By happenstance, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day were both on Wednesday, February 14th — my travel day. Brother in law Ron sends me all the funny articles about our shared and now very much dated Catholic heritage. Seems the bishops were in a dither that the faithful might eschew sackcloth and ashes and penitence for champagne and chocolates and romantic revelry.

No, no, they exhorted their observant followers. Ash Wednesday beats out Valentine’s Day, and penitence is a must. Celebrate another time.

When I was a kid, I remember lots of people walking around all day with ashes — including the York girls and our mother. Our father was Protestant and got a pass. I always thought — until I was an adult — that the ashes were from dead bodies, and the whole thing creeped me right out. In my defense, the priests used to intone “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and the reference was to dead people. No one ever intoned “burned up last year’s palm fronds” as they dabbed a black smudge on your forehead.

I was in three very large airports on Wednesday — SeaTac, Chicago, and Boston — and I didn’t see one single soul with ashes, including two foreign looking nuns dressed in habits.

I’m not sure the bishops’ exhortations have much sway any more.

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